US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday pledged during a mission to the Middle East that Washington would rally support for the reconstruction of Gaza as part of efforts to strengthen a ceasefire between its Islamist Hamas leaders. and Israel.
But Blinken has made it clear that the United States intends to ensure that Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organization, does not benefit from humanitarian aid – a potentially difficult task in an enclave on which it has a strong hold.
Blinken began his regional visit to Jerusalem, where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader, speaking to reporters with America’s top diplomat by his side, threatened a “very powerful response” if Hamas renewed its cross-border rocket strikes.
The truce, brokered by Egypt and coordinated with the United States, began Friday after 11 days of the worst fighting between Palestinian militants and Israel in years. Now in his fifth day, he is holding out.
“We know that to prevent a return to violence, we must use the space created to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges,” Blinken said.
“And it starts by tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild.”
The United States, he said, would work to rally international support around this effort and would make its own âsignificant contributions,â which will be announced later today.
“We will work with our partners, closely with all to ensure that Hamas does not benefit from reconstruction aid,” Blinken said of the group.
Blinken will be in the region until Thursday, and will also visit Egypt and Jordan. Along with his visit, the Israeli authorities allowed fuel, medicine and food intended for Gaza’s private sector to enter the territory for the first time since hostilities began on May 10.
Blinken, who has said he hopes to rebuild relations with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority, was due to meet with West-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later today in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.
Negotiations between Israel and the Authority collapsed in 2014, and US President Joe Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump cut aid to the Palestinians while promoting a plan that would leave Israel in control of many settlements it has. built in the West Bank.
But while Biden has said a two-state solution is the only answer to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, US officials have suggested it is too early for broader peace talks.
Israel is undergoing political change after four inconclusive elections in two years, and Palestinians are divided by the enmity between Hamas and Abbas, which dominates the West Bank.
Blinken said he and Netanyahu discussed “further steps” that need to be taken by leaders on both sides to establish “a better path” for Israelis and Palestinians.
“As President Biden said, we believe that Palestinians and Israelis also deserve to live in safety, to enjoy equal measures of freedom, opportunity and democracy, to be treated with dignity,” he said. Blinken said.
At least 253 people have been killed in Gaza and more than 1,900 injured, Palestinian health officials said, in the fighting which has seen hundreds of Israeli airstrikes.
The IDF has estimated the death toll in Israel at 13, with hundreds treated for injuries after rocket bursts caused panic and sent people as far as Tel Aviv rushing into shelters.
Commercial buildings, residential towers and private homes across the Gaza Strip, home to 2 million people, were damaged or destroyed when the ceasefire was announced.
In Gaza, Palestinian officials have estimated reconstruction costs at tens of millions of dollars. Israel has blocked the territory since 2007, which the Palestinians condemn as collective punishment. Egypt also maintains restrictions on its border with Gaza. Both countries cite security concerns for the measures.
Israel claims that the airstrikes hit legitimate military targets and that it did everything possible to avoid civilian casualties, including giving advance warnings when it was about to strike residential buildings which it said also had military use.
Hostilities were sparked in part by Israeli police raids on the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and clashes with Palestinians during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Violence between Arabs and Jews has also erupted in some Israeli towns, and Blinken said he discussed the inter-communal unrest with Netanyahu.
“Healing these wounds will require leadership at all levels,” Blinken said, echoing Biden’s condemnation of what the Secretary of State called “a shocking eruption of anti-Semitic attacks” in the United States itself. .
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